Events Marked At Ground Zero

Following the National Anthem, events kick off observances of the 10th anniversary of the attacks at Ground Zero in Manhattan, N.Y. Audie Cornish talks to NPR's Robert Siegel.

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AUDIE CORNISH, Host:

Now in a moment, we're going to turn to the official ceremony in New York, which is going to begin with bagpipers and drummers. I'm joined by NPR's Robert Siegel. He's on the 10th floor of 2 World Financial Center, overlooking the National September 11th Memorial and ground zero. Robert, tell us what we're going to see next.

ROBERT SIEGEL: Well, we're going to hear the pipers and drummers who will go to the stage of this memorial ceremony. And they represent the New York Police Department, the New York Fire Department, and the Port Authority Police Department. Again, for people not familiar with this area, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is an agency accountable to both states. They have their own police, who worked this site when the World Trade Center was up, and they will arrive.

They'll be followed by an honor guard representing not only the fire department, the NYPD and the Port Authority PD but also all the branches of the service. And we should - shortly - be hearing the National Anthem, sung by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. I think the first speaker we're going to hear will be Mayor Mike Bloomberg of New York, who will introduce this entire event and introduce the first moment of silence.

But for now, what we're waiting on is the processional - the bagpipers and the drummers representing the local uniformed services of New York and New Jersey.

CORNISH: And Robert, I can see on - we have some TV screens here. There are people in the audience who are holding pictures of their loved ones.

SIEGEL: Yes.

CORNISH: And some have signs saying, you know, never forget - or remembering their relatives. The audience that's in the site proper, it's only family, correct?

SIEGEL: Family. Family and dignitaries. And in fact, this entire day, the opening of the memorial will be for family. And then for the next year or more, I think year and a half, access to the entire memorial site will be something limited to ticket holders. It won't be an open space that people can just go walk around in. But for now, the ceremony is really for a live audience of the family of people who perished on 9/11 here.

And the memorial is to victims all over the country on that day, both here - at 9/11 - and also in Shanksville, and also at the Pentagon.

CORNISH: And I want to talk a little bit more about what the memorial looks like. From your view, I'm sure you can see - more than 400 swamp white oak trees have already been planted at the site.

SIEGEL: They're little now. They're supposed to grow quite a bit over the years. And there is one pear tree out there, one callery pear tree that is known as the survivor tree. It's the only one that's not a swamp white oak, and it's a tree that actually was at the World Trade Center plaza before 9/11 and somehow, survived the events of that day.

The pools, as Robert Smith described them earlier, they're really quite moving. They are pools filled with water from the waterfall, which then the water sort of vanishes down a pit at the base. They will form a plaza, eventually, that will be encircled by the rebuilt skyscrapers of this district. They're intended to be a contemplative space, where people remembering 9/11 and remembering those who died might go to do so.

But I think there's someday going to be just a very beautiful, open space in the midst of one of the most built-up places in the entire world - this lower financial and business district of New York City.

CORNISH: We spoke with the planner of the 9/11 site, Daniel Libeskind, who talked about his idea that this, essentially, is a place to honor memory. And I know that - I believe the names of the victims of the attacks are etched on the lip of each of these reflecting pools.

SIEGEL: Yes, in brass, and they're grouped in ways that relate to where they were. One of the two pools is on the footprint of the North Tower; the other in the footprint of the South Tower. Obviously, those who were in each tower, those who were in the planes that hit each tower, their names will be associated there; first responders as well.

So it's a very - I think it's - I've been able to see it from very high up, from a window up on the 34th floor on the east side of the ground zero site and now, from 10 stories up on the other side. It's a very impressive design and should introduce a very quiet park to this part of the city.

CORNISH: And I have to ask, Robert, you're actually from New York. I mean, what do these acres mean to you? What is it like for you to see this now?

SIEGEL: You know, I'm a native New Yorker who grew up looking downtown from 14th Street over the skyline of Lower Manhattan. We moved out just as these towers were going up. So I can't say they were a part of my youth but, you know, it was a very unloved site when it was first built. I think people felt the only virtue of the World Trade Center towers was, they were big.

I don't think anybody thought of them the way New Yorkers think of the Empire State Building or the Chrysler building or, from an older time, the Woolworth building. In 1993, in February, when there was an attempt to bomb....

CORNISH: Well - oh, go ahead, Robert.

SIEGEL: Well, that moment, I think, they became much more loved. Right now, I can see the pipers on their way. We should hear them soon. Drummers and pipers from the police department and the fire department and the Port Authority police department are marching...

CORNISH: And they'll be coming in with the lead World Trade Center flag, I think, and this was the flag that flew over the site until late October 2001.

SIEGEL: This is a flag that went into space. It went on the space shuttle Endeavor.

CORNISH: Right.

SIEGEL: As a memento of 9/11, and they will be bringing that as they approach the site. Right now they're marching, but can't quite hear them yet. By the way, President and Mrs. Obama, President and Mrs. Bush were greeting - and now are greeting some of the police officers here. But earlier, you could see them meeting with former Mayor Rudolph Guiliani, former New York State Governor George Pataki.

All of the people who were in authority in those days in New York City, New York state and New Jersey - and the United States - are here and are gathered in what is a - not just a completely nonpartisan event; it's also an entirely secular event, I might add. You will not hear a - as far as we know, we'll not hear any prayer invocation or benediction in this event.

CORNISH: Nor will you hear any speeches from any of these politicians who are on stage today.

SIEGEL: No speeches. No speeches. It is a ceremony of memory. I think we can hear the drums approaching right now.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMMING)

SIEGEL: These are the pipers and the drummers. We're hearing the drummers; we should be hearing the pipers shortly.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMMING)

CORNISH: And again, you're listening to live special coverage of the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Right now, we're listening to bagpipes and drummers who are entering the site of the ground zero September 11th Memorial. And as Robert mentioned earlier, this is a group that's made up of police and fire, and of different members of branches of the American military.

SIEGEL: They are walking alongside one of the pools toward the stage and in fact, they are inaugurating - right now - this memorial as they march through it. Momentarily, we should be hearing the "Star Spangled Banner" and Mayor Bloomberg. I think we can hear the pipers in the distance, can't we?

CORNISH: I think they're a little ways away.

SIEGEL: A little ways off.

CORNISH: I know for the National Anthem, we will be hearing from the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. They're going to be performing that.

SIEGEL: I have a feeling that down there - we're now 10 flights up - but it's really very quiet. Up here, of course, we are a hive of activity of all kinds of broadcast and camera crews and photographers from all over the world. There's much attention being focused on this memorial. But down below, I think, it must be a lot more solemn and quiet than it is up here.

CORNISH: It's a fascinating sight from here, I mean, to see the bagpipers and the drums. They're marching in single file.

SIEGEL: In kilts.

CORNISH: In kilts. Down this plaza, which is flanked by trees. You know, which, if anyone has been in Lower Manhattan - particularly this neighborhood - that's not exactly what it used to look like before.

SIEGEL: Yeah. The World Trade Center as it was really was not exactly a contemplative spot in Lower Manhattan. And what open space was left in it was kind of windswept - wind coming right off the Hudson River. And it was not a very attractive or much- beloved place in the city.

It's remarkable, over the years, how this part of Manhattan has turned into not just a bustling business district, but a residential area - which it really never was...

CORNISH: Right.

SIEGEL: Until quite recently. So there's a real neighborhood population here, and there are people who will be taking advantage of all of its parks and open spaces on a daily basis.

CORNISH: Well, the sun is streaming through the buildings that are there, and alight down on the trees below and on the crowd below. And it really is a beautiful sight.

SIEGEL: The pipers and drummers have taken their position on the stage, and the honor guard surrounds them. They're now marching in place, and I expect we'll be hearing from the pipers momentarily.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMMING)

CORNISH: We can see members of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus moving up to the podium now, moving onstage.

SIEGEL: I heard them rehearsing yesterday. It should be beautiful.

CORNISH: All very young.

SIEGEL: Yes.

CORNISH: And you know, probably weren't born, or were very young, when the September 11th attacks actually happened.

SIEGEL: You know, one of the readers today, Peter Negron, is the son of a man who died, Pete Negron. He was just 12 years old back then. It's remarkable to think that the children of those days are now young adults. But you're right, these kids from the Brooklyn Youth Chorus will be singing the National Anthem as President Obama and Mrs. Obama take their place on the stage now. Everyone's standing below, and I expect we shall hear the "Star Spangled Banner" in just a moment.

(SOUNDBITE OF CEREMONY)

SIEGEL: The honor guard unfurling the World Trade Center flag - the flag, Audie, as you said, that flew over this site in the weeks after 9/11, and then was sent aboard the space shuttle Endeavor in December of 2001, in honor of the victims. And the flag now being unfolded.

(SOUNDBITE OF CEREMONY)

CORNISH: We should mention that this part of the program is actually leading up to the first of several moments of silence that will be honored throughout the day. This first one will be at 8:46, observing the time that American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower.

SIEGEL: Now the honor guard holds the flag by its four corners.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAR SPANGLED BANNER")

BROOKLYN YOUTH CHORUS: (Singing) Oh say, can you see, by the dawn's early light, what so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming? Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight, o'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming? And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.

(Singing) Oh say, does that star spangled banner yet wave o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave. Oh, say does that star spangled banner yet wave, o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

CORNISH: The Brooklyn Youth Chorus performing the National Anthem at ground zero, the site of the September 11th anniversary - of the September 11th attacks at ground zero.

(SOUNDBITE OF BAGPIPES)

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